GIVEN that people in different areas and social groups had such enormous differences in their chances of survival, could not the gap between their fortunes be narrowed? The sanitary idea, and improvements in public health could only be realised by Health Acts, consequently families couldn't manage their own destiny by simply greater cleanliness in the home.
Epidemics were the blight that no-one could safely ignore, least of all in the growing town of Wednesbury.
Cholera, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria and smallpox, were all regular scourges, and few families escaped. Even before people understood the causes of disease, certain factors were becoming clear; there was more disease and poor health in towns, especially in the poorest areas. This was particularly so in the case of Wednesbury.
When the Borough Council came into existence in 1886, it was found that only drains connecting the houses with the town sewers could eliminate diseases. Even in 1901 the Medical Officer reported that Wednesbury was "still a privy midden town."
This was because many of the poorer cottages were built around courts or long alleys with no paving, as a result, with the comings and goings of everyday life, filth was trodden into the ground from the refuse near the dwellings. Consequently, in dry weather the contaminated dust blew about the alleyways. Flies gathered on all manner of excrement and then swarmed into the cottages, transferring it on to food. Therefore, bad sanitation was proved to be a major cause of certain infections and infectious diseases.
In 1892, scared by a possible outbreak of cholera, the Sanitary Committee decided to engage a new night soil contractor, and enforced holders to adhere to this request, "to put out their ....."
. However, what was urgently needed was the laying of drains, followed by the paving of the courts.
Although, it wasn't until 1911 that the number of privies decreased and water closets replaced them.
This was as a result of the efficiency of Wednesbury's sewage disposal works at Bescot. There had been a serious outbreak of typhoid in 1909, but was not considered to have reached epidemic proportions for Wednesbury.
Once more there must have been a clash between the ideals of the town's welfare policy, and the simple facts, "the need for better health of the poor of the parish."
Poverty and progress were at loggerheads, resulting in sickness.
It is a remarkable fact in the history of public health that hardly anyone was seriously concerned with tuberculosis until the second decade of the 20th century. It was only in 1912 that the disease was made notifiable by Dr Garman in his annual report to the Local Government Board of Health at Wednesbury.
In 1912, and again in 1913 tuberculosis accounted for more than 10% of all deaths in Wednesbury. Since it was a result of a poor standard of living, bad housing and overcrowding, the figures reflect how behind the town was in it's social conditions. Yet, this article had already appeared in "The Wolverhampton Chronicle" on February 18th 1880, warning of the dangers of the disease.
Remedies "A message to Consumptives.
Would you like to know how to stop the cough and cause easy expectoration, thereby relieving the lungs so that they can easily heal? Would you like to know how to expel fever and stop night sweats? Would you like to know how to strengthen the system up to a standard of good health by a few life-giving herbal remedies? Contact Fleeming and Son, High Green, Wolverhampton or R.H. Kearness, Swan Bank, Bilston. Prices 71/2d, 1s. 11/2d, 2s. 9d, 4s. 6d and 10s. 6d per box."
The message was surely "cough it up" and "suck the cough sweets."
Nothing then could cure tuberculosis.
Between 1870 and 1873 the whole of the country was afflicted by the worst smallpox epidemic on record, but even so in 1872 the Wednesbury Board decided not to provide an isolation hospital, since the disease had not reached epidemic proportions in the town. However, perhaps having learned from their negligence, when it returned in 1882, temporary measures had to be quickly made. Three marquees and six tents were pitched on a site at Crankhall Lane.
The next outbreak was in 1898, but still Wednesbury was little prepared. The measures taken were the same as in 1882, another temporary hospital, this time at Moxley.
There were other diseases, as dangerous from which Wednesbury people were never immune. Isolation was necessary and the only answer, therefore, an Isolation Hospital was opened at Dangerfield Lane in 1899. Unfortunately, it could only treat one disease at any given time and was consequently only used at intervals; as by it's very nature isolation was paramount.
As the 20th century began tuberculosis was slightly in decline, but it was still one of the most feared infectious diseases.
In the absence of effective drugs the only treatment was a prolonged stay in a sanatorium.
Their only weapons in the fight against the disease were gentle activity and rest, together with sunshine and fresh air. As mentioned previously, there was a recorded outbreak during the period 1912-1913, consequently when I purchased this correspondence between the Salcombe and Cullage families living at Wednesbury during this spread of tuberculosis, it made me suspect they may have been exposed to T.B. as we know it. Indeed James Salcombe may have fallen victim to T.B. in 1911 long before Doctor Garman's report to the Board of Health at Wednesbury in 1912. If this was so, James was possibly one of the wealthiest T.B. sufferers, as after treatment he had taken refuge in a convalescent home where no doubt the services were on a similar footing to those of a hotel. He accelerated his cure in Ancoats Convalescent Home, Great Warford at Alderley-Edge, Cheshire, from where he sent this view of the home and the patients on June 4th 1911 to his Aunt, and Uncle James Salcombe living at 50, Windmill Street, Wednesbury.
"Just a line to let you know I am improving and nearly right again. I have received a week's extension and so I shall be here all Whit week. Wishing you the best of health and a pleasant Whitsuntide, I remain, Your Loving Nephew James."
James was exceedingly lucky in his recuperation at Ancoats, a home funded by subscribers and benefactors, as for those of more modest means, a period in a sanatorium often meant a stay in less luxurious surroundings, with a strict regime, closer to their home town. For some ordinary working men, with a spirit of thrift, joining a Friendly Society was the only way for them to be able to draw sickness benefit. However, in 1911 when James was taken ill, it was the year the National Insurance Act became law, even though there was opposition by the Wednesbury doctors.
We may assume he made a complete recovery, and returned to his wife and children as can be seen in the delightful family portrait on the doorstep of their home (see front page). Also, the other photograph gives us good reason to think he returned to his profession as a teacher.
James is positioned second from the left, maybe a little thinner, but reunited with his friend and colleague James A.M. Cullage, centre under the arch.
Wednesbury was a district full of schools, which included six Church of England schools.
Bartholomew's, St. James's, St.
John's, the National School at Moxley, King's Hill and St.
Peter's. But it was St Bartholomew's Boys School that was said to be the best that was then available for the children of the middle class.
However, maybe someone knows otherwise, especially the present day members of these families. Also can they remember stories of how great grandfather returned from sickness to health after an epidemic at Wednesbury?